During my recent talk to university students, I emphasized the importance of going beyond just learning. With the job market becoming more competitive, students must actively apply what they know. As someone who works in talent marketing, education alone is no longer a significant differentiator between students. Hundreds of students within a program study the same material, so employers don’t value what students know but what they can do.
After I finished my talk, a student approached me. He confided in me that he understood my point, but he was finding it hard to reconcile with what his parents were telling him. I discovered that he was the first person in his family to attend university, which was a matter of great pride for his family. As a result, he felt a lot of pressure to excel academically to demonstrate that he deserved to be there. His parents advised him to quit his part-time job and give his undivided attention to his studies, which he did. However, I explained that this strategy would do him more harm than good when he looked for a job later.
Many students prioritize grades above all else, and it’s understandable – in an academic environment, grades are often seen as the measure of success. However, this focus on grades can be misguided regarding the job market. A student who has only focused on studying and has achieved a 90% grade may not necessarily be the best candidate for a job. A student who got a 70% grade but has relevant experience and can demonstrate competence may be a more desirable candidate for employers. Nowadays, recruiters are looking for people who can take action and get things done rather than just those with the highest grades.
To illustrate this point, let’s consider two hypothetical students. The first has a degree in professional writing and got a 90% grade, while the second got a 70% grade but runs a blog that receives over 10,000 monthly visitors. Which student would be more impressive to a potential employer? Similarly, which student would you want to hire for a social media marketing role: the one who got a 90% grade or the one who got a 60% grade but has successfully built a Twitter account with over 500,000 followers? These examples show that grades alone do not determine a candidate’s suitability for a job. Relevant experience and the ability to take initiative are also crucial factors.
As a parent, your children look up to you for guidance, perspective, and support. You must have a realistic view of their future. What do you value more: a child who achieves the highest grades on graduation day or one who lands the best career and employment opportunities? Clarifying the desired outcome is essential because the path to these two outcomes differs vastly. One approach relies on an intense focus on studies, while the other requires investing time in experiences such as work and volunteering, building relationships with professionals, attending employer functions, gaining mentors, reflecting on ways to prove skill sets learned in class, and understanding how to project their talent effectively.
Parents commonly believe that their children can focus solely on academics before graduation and then shift their focus to landing a job after graduation.
However, it’s important to remember that transitioning from academic to professional life can be a drastic change, with different rules for success. It’s unfair to expect a child who has spent over 15 consecutive years in an academic environment to adapt to a new professional environment quickly. The current high unemployment rates, underemployment, and the skyrocketing student debt crisis are clear evidence of recent graduates’ difficulties while trying to adapt to professional life.
Preparing for a successful professional life requires more than just focusing on studies.
As a parent, you can encourage your child to take risks and participate in various activities during their time at university. Engage in campus projects, join student associations and clubs, and volunteer to gain invaluable experiences. Build relationships with employers, recruiters, mentors, and relevant professionals. Utilize their education in self-driven projects. While these things may not necessarily result in the highest grades, they will maximize your child’s marketability and help them land the best job opportunities upon graduation.